San Francisco is so expensive that waiters can no longer afford to live in the city, and it's changing the way restaurants are serving food and hiring workers


The housing market in San Francisco is so expensive that it's commonly referred to as being in a crisis.

Restaurant workers are fleeing the city's unmanageable costs, The Guardian reported, and it's changing the way the industry is serving customers.

Some restaurants are having customers order at a counter instead of being waited on at a table and are simplifying their menus to decrease the size of their waitstaff.

The problem isn't unique to the Bay Area: Restaurants in cities like New York City and Washington have encountered similar staffing issues.

Michelin recently released its 2019 San Francisco Guide — and awarded the city more stars than it's ever had before, including eight restaurants with the coveted three-star status.

But there's a grimmer reality behind these numbers: Many restaurants in the city can no longer attract or maintain enough talent to keep operations running as they have been.

Largely, that's because the San Francisco housing market is so expensive that it's driving people out in droves. In fact, as Business Insider's Melia Robinson reported, the city is so expensive — the median home sale price is $1.6 million — that 60% of tech workers say they can't afford homes.

The news bodes even worse for many workers in the service industry. Despite a citywide wage hike implemented on July 1, 2018, that raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, rent continues to be unaffordable for many. And it means that restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, once common sources of employment for people in the Bay Area, are struggling to hire enough staff to keep operations running.

As The Guardian reported, the effect this is having on the restaurant industry is twofold: Restaurants are either closing down, or they are changing how they serve their customers.

Read more: I've lived in the Bay Area for 30 years, and I'm convinced that tech companies have ruined it

In an effort to stay open despite staffing shortages, restaurants that previously may have had extensive menus and waiters tending to each table are taking measures to cut back on the size of the staff that both prepares and serves the food.

Instead of traditional service, The Guardian's Erin McCormick wrote, some restaurants "are having the customers do the work by standing in line to place their orders and picking up their own drinks. Meanwhile, new 'fine casual' establishments are serving scaled-down menus that can be easily prepared by fewer cooks."

Looking beyond the Bay Area

While San Francisco is notorious for its rising prices, the problem extends beyond the Bay Area.

High rent in New York City has had a similar effect on the restaurant industry, The Guardian reported. And Washington, as The New York Times reported in April, is also experiencing staff shortages — but the problem there is that the expanding restaurant scene is simply outpacing the area's ability to staff these establishments.

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"The demand for highly skilled help is especially acute in Washington, where a boom in restaurants run by creative chefs is outstripping the region's labor force," The Times wrote.

Ultimately, the shortage of restaurant staff creates a problem in which repercussions are felt by both the staff and by the diners.

For guests, it means at the very least an altered dining experience with less human interaction from the waitstaff. At worst, as the Michelin Guide wrote, it manifests as "lackluster service and food or fewer opportunities to dine."

And for management looking to fill out staff at these establishments, it means that hiring is an increasingly pressing challenge. As Business Insider's Kate Taylor reported, "Analysts are also calling a lack of employees one of the biggest problems in the restaurant industry today."

Are you an industry professional who's been affected by staffing shortages or has a story to share? Email the author at lbatarags@businessinsider.com.

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